Don’t look now, but ladies and gentlemen, your Washington Capitals are Stanley Cup contenders. After trouncing the Anaheim Ducks, 5-1, the Caps sit atop the Eastern Conference with 76 points, 6 clear of second place New Jersey. With less then 30 games to go, the Capitals have positioned themselves perfectly for a long run in the NHL’s postseason.
Though I think they are still one true defenseman away from being legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, the Caps are playing their best hockey, and are leading the pack for home ice. Captain Alex Ovechkin is the greatest player in the game today, and I almost wish they didn’t have to take a hiatus for the Olympics. I’m a big believer in momentum, and any break in the action could prove costly. Hockey is a game played with passion, and based on momentum.
But to look at this team, with the offensive talent they put on the ice each night, you have to like their chances against any of the contenders in the conference. They are almost unbeatable at home, amassing a 19-3-3 record in the Verizon Center, and you have to think if they are able to secure home ice throughout the playoffs, they should be the odds on favorite to win the conference. Not to mention that no one in this conference scares me. New Jersey has great goaltending, but a suspect offense. Buffalo can’t score, and I think if you throw any kind of pressure at the Pittsburgh Penguins, they fold like a cheap card table. Let’s face it, they may be defending champions, but they’re soft. Washington is the only team to score over 200 goals this year, and in my opinion, their offense can make up for any defensive holes they have.
The big question mark for the Caps, I believe, is in goal. I’m not a fan of Jose’ Theodore. He has strung together some good games recently, but I don’t think he’s a big game performer. Once Varly comes back from injury, I believe he will be the goalie of choice for Coach Boudreau. He proved last year that he can come up big in the big games. That game 7 against Pittsburgh notwithstanding, Varlamov carried this team through their playoff run last year. And I expect more of the same this year. Nothing against Theodore, I just don’t believe in him.
In the end, it’s all going to depend on who shows up in the playoffs. I think the Capitals have the best chance of any Eastern Conference team, simply because they are the best offensive team in the league. I know the playoffs usually come down to defensive and net minding, but I think the Caps are the strongest “complete” team. We’ll see in a couple months, but it’s nice to have that dog in the fight..especially after how the Ravens’ season ended.
Go Caps, and Glenn Clark, feel free to hop on the bandwagon whenever you get the chance. We’ll make a Caps fan out of you yet.